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Hamas on Thursday criticized a report issued by global human rights group Amnesty International, which accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes in Gaza. Hamas said in response that the report was "imbalanced and unfair"

In its first in-depth human rights report on the recent Israeli offensive in Gaza, Amnesty International accused both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the fighting earlier this year. The group charged that the Israel Defense Forces killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians and destroyed thousands of Gaza Strip homes in attacks that amounted to war crimes, and denounced Hamas for firing rockets into civilian areas of southern Israel.

In response, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that "instead of wasting time with reports, Israeli murderers should be put on trial," Army Radio reported.

The Hamas spokesman added that his organization rejects the findings of the 117-page report, saying that it was unfair to place the victim in the position of aggressor. "They didn't check their facts with any Hamas leader," he accused the human rights group.

Later Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak's office also rejected the report, issuing a statement saying that "the information presented as fact in the report is not true, and has no correlation to reality."

Barak's statment added that the report "completely ignored the fact that Hamas has been employing terror tactics and criminal methods against the residents of Israel for eight years, while carrying out unrelenting terror and fire."

"Hamas acted in a cowardly fashion while taking advantage of the civilian Palestinian population, which it turned into a human shield. The IDF, from the Chief of Staff to the last of the combat soldiers, is one of the most moral armies in the world, which abides by the highest ethical codes, and this was proven in investigations carried out after the operation," the statement continued.

The IDF also issued a response, saying that it was both "questionable and objectionable that a well respected and ostensibly objective international organization such as Amnesty could produce a report on Operation Cast Lead without properly recognizing the unbearable reality of nine years of incessant and indiscriminate rocket fire on the citizens of Israel."

"The slant of their report indicates that the organization succumbed to manipulations of the Hamas terror organization," the IDF statement went on to say.

Both Hamas and Israel are guilty of war crimes

Donatella Rovera, who headed Amnesty's field research mission, concluded that "five months on, neither side has shown any inclination to change its practices and abide by international humanitarian law, raising the prospect that civilians will again bear the brunt if fighting resumes."

Amnesty called on Israel to publicly pledge not to use artillery, white phosphorus and other imprecise weapons in densely populated areas. And it urged Gaza's militant Hamas rulers to stop rocket fire against Israeli civilians.

Amnesty - which first accused Israel of war crimes shortly after the fighting ended on Jan. 18 - said disturbing questions remain about why high-precision weapons like tank shells and air-delivered bombs and missiles killed so many children and other civilians.

The group also deplored Israel's alleged use of less-precise artillery shells and highly incendiary white phosphorous in densely populated areas. It also accused the IDF of using Palestinians as human shields and frequently blocking civilians from receiving medical care and humanitarian aid.

"The pattern of Israeli attacks and the high number of civilian casualties showed elements of reckless conduct, disregard for civilian lives and property and a consistent failure to distinguish between military targets and civilians and civilian objects," Amnesty International charged.

Gaza health officials and human rights groups say that some 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed during the three-week offensive. Israel puts the death toll closer to 1,100 and says the vast majority of the dead were militants.

Amnesty says some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians were among the dead. Thirteen Israelis also were killed, including three civilians who died in rocket attacks.

The Geneva Conventions ban using white phosphorous as an incendiary weapon against civilian populations and in air attacks against military forces in civilian areas.

During the Gaza conflict Israel categorically denied that its use of phosphorous weapons was illegal. The IDF says its internal investigations concluded it did not violate international law during the Gaza conflict.

The report was based on physical evidence and testimony that a team of four researchers, including a military expert, gathered from dozens of attack sites in Gaza and southern Israel during and after the war.

The detailed report broke little new ground, concentrating on issues, cases and problems that have been dealt with in other frameworks.

Among the Gaza cases cited in the report were the well-documented shelling of a house where a family took refuge on soldiers' orders before 21 people were killed; an Israeli artillery attack near a UN school that killed dozens; and the shelling of a house that killed three daughters of a Gaza doctor who has worked in Israel for years and is a champion of coexistence.

"Israel did not respond to Amnesty International's repeated requests for information on specific cases detailed in the report and for meetings to discuss the organization's findings," said Rovera.

She said investigators were able to operate freely in Gaza, without any intervention by Hamas security forces.

"This was a fierce, one-sided war in which all means of killing and destruction were employed," said Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of Hamas' Gaza government. "We believe that the leaders of the occupation state must be tried for these crimes."

The UN is examining the conduct of both sides in the conflict. Hamas allowed veteran war crimes investigator Richard Goldstone and his team into Gaza last month, but Hamas security often accompanied them, raising questions about the ability of witnesses to freely describe the militant group's actions.

Israel has refused to cooperate with the probe, claiming the UN council overseeing the investigation is biased.

Israel conducted its own internal investigation earlier this year and cleared the military of wrongdoing. Human rights groups criticized the probe as a whitewash.